2019-20 NT Budget Delivered

The 2019-20 NT budget was handed down on Tuesday 7 May by Treasurer Nicole Manison.

OTA has prepared a summary of those budget measures most relevant to occupational therapists. Click on the links below to skip to the sections of most interest to you.

THE BOTTOM LINE

As part of a ten-year plan to salvage the Northern Territory’s finances, the Gunner Government has brought down a tough 2019-20 budget. Cuts to the Territory’s public service, including the loss of 52 highly paid positions, and a three year freeze on the salaries of politicians and senior public servants, are among the savings measures.

The budget, and the broader recovery plan of which it is a part, follow an independent report into the Territory’s financial position last December. The report identified a culture of unaccountability within the public service, resulting in overspends by successive governments, and concluded that without significant economies the Territory’s debt would climb to $35.7 billion in 2029, incurring a $2 billion annual interest bill that could not be serviced.

In short, the Territory faces insolvency.

Initial measures to address the crisis were announced in mid-April and include the proposed sale of some publicly owned assets, and new or increased fees.

The budget reveals that total debt will rise to $6.2 billion next financial year, an enormous sum when viewed against government expenditure of $8.4 billion. The budget deficit is $1.1 billion in 2019-20 but is forecast to fall sharply by 2022-23, to $540 million. The promised return to surplus is so distant, however, it falls outside forward estimates.

Next year the government’s interest bill will reach $1 million per day.

Unemployment is likely to fall slightly to 4.6%, which is actually below the national average.

With private investment likely to fall a further 12% next year, the Gunner Government is seeking ways to help the private sector become a driver of economic growth. The budget therefore includes measures to cut red tape and facilitate major projects. By seeking to make the Territory a more attractive destination for investment and tourists, Labor is hoping to offset the impact of a 1% cut in government expenditure.

While slashing senior administrative positions within the public service, Treasurer Nicole Manison stayed true to her word and has resisted cuts to frontline services.

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HEALTH AND HOSPITALS

The 2019-20 budget commits $1.72 billion to meet the current and projected health needs of Territorians. This includes $1.3 billion to resource the Top End and Central Australia Health Services to provide acute to primary health care services in hospitals, health centres and in the home.

$4.51 million has been provided for allied health services across the Top End.

Other health related measures include:

  • $6.6 million to continue works to refurbish and expand the Nightcliff renal facility;
  • $5.8 million for upgrades at Alice Springs Hospital;
  • $5 million to support delivery of the Sustained Nurse Home Visiting for Vulnerable Families program;
  • $2.92 million for emergency road ambulance and medical transportation services;
  • $2.89 million to expand renal inpatient capacity at Alice Springs Hospital; and
  • $2.34 million to expand service capability of the patient retrieval service across Central Australia and to address the growing demand in medical services.

Investment in infrastructure at remote health centres includes a fitout of the emergency room at the Palumpa Health Centre ($485,000), work at the Ali Curing Health Centre ($250,000), work at the Numbulwar Health Centre ($50,000), work at the Mt Liebig Health Centre ($50,000), and installation of an oxygen cage at the Docker River Health Centre ($40,000).

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MENTAL HEALTH

$0.93 million will be spent on psychosocial support for people in public housing with severe and persistent mental illness.

The budget includes $3 million to increase the level and type of youth crisis support services as part of the Barkly Regional Deal, a partnership between the Commonwealth and Territory governments and Barkly Regional Council.

$3 million has also been provided for enhanced trauma care through comprehensive physical health, developmental, cognitive and mental health assessments, treatment and management for children.

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DRUG AND ALCOHOL TREATMENT SERVICES

The budget includes $15.5 million to provide assessment, withdrawal and specialised alcohol treatment services to assist people with alcohol misuse issues and dependence as part of the Alcohol Harm Minimisation Strategy.

$0.75 million has been provided to tackle substance misuse in remote communities.

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EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT

This year’s budget includes a $35.6 million investment over four years to continue delivering the NT government’s 10-year Early Childhood Development Plan. This includes $10 million from 2019-20.

The plan outlines initiatives such as expanding the Maternal Early Childhood Sustained Home visiting program to support expecting mothers in more regional and remote areas, expanding the Healthy Under 5 Kids program to Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and all remote clinics managed by the health services, and establishing four new Hearing Health Partnership locations integrated with Families as First Teachers sites to promote ear health hygiene, language and learning behaviours.

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EDUCATION

$8 million has been provided to continue early intervention and support to tackle challenging behaviours and support students with additional needs.

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